Apple Car could see three times farther at night by using infrared headlights

Infrared headlights could allow an Apple Car autonomous driving system to “see” three times farther at night than a human driver.

Apple was today granted a patent for the night vision system that combines visible light, near-infrared (NIR), and long-wave infrared (LWIR) sensors for a comprehensive view of what lays ahead …

Apple’s patent explains that self-driving cars have the same limitations as human drivers when it comes to seeing at night, citing the typical 60-meter (200 feet) range of car headlights.

Nighttime or low-light environments present challenges for automated vehicle control systems. For example, the illumination level provided by headlights on a vehicle at night may be limited by laws or regulations, which may in turn limit the effective range of a visible spectrum sensor (e.g., a camera) used for detecting objects in or near the path of the vehicle. Having a limited effective range (e.g., about 60 meters) for detecting and or classifying objects can reduce safety and/or reduce the speed at which the vehicle can travel safely.

Apple notes that the law limiting the power of headlights applies only to visible light, so infrared ones could be more powerful.

A combination of multiple complimentary image sensing technologies may be employed to address the challenges of nighttime or low-light environment object detection and classification. For example, there may be looser or no restrictions on the illumination level of a near infrared illuminator mounted on a vehicle. A near infrared sensor with a near infrared illuminator can be configured to capture high resolution image information about objects in or near a path of the vehicle out to a significantly longer range (e.g., 200 meters) from the vehicle. This may enable earlier detection and classification of objects as the vehicle moves and improve safety and/or maximum speed. Near infrared illuminators may project near infrared light in a relatively narrow field of view (e.g., a 30-degree cone). 

The patent notes that visible light provides the highest resolution; near-infrared provides the greatest range; and long-wave infrared provides the widest field of view. Combining input from all three would give the car the best possible model of what is in front of and around it at night.

Some existing cars use infrared imaging to provide additional range to the driver’s view of the road ahead, highlighting pedestrians and other hazards that lay beyond the range of the headlights. The system shown above is a Porsche one.

Apple’s car plans are still unclear, though if the company intends to sell a complete vehicle, one existing manufacturer warned the company that it will need to be ready to provide 40 years of support. Apple typically declares products obsolete five to seven years after they are discontinued, at which point no further parts or repair services are offered.

Via Patently Apple

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